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2/24/2010

How To Buy Green Power And Lose the Carbon

By Deborah Warner | GreenTech TV

What is Green Power?

Green power refers to electricity that is supplied entirely or in part by renewable energy power sources like wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and various forms of biomass (plant-derived) materials.  Some states are already offering green power options to energy consumers in the form of competitive power retailers, or through green pricing programs offered by regulated utilities.  In fact, more than 50% of US retail energy customers have the option of purchasing electricity directly from an electricity supplier.

Consumers can also support the increased use of renewable energy by purchasing green energy certificates, which are discussed in more detail below.

Why should I buy green power?

When you purchase a green power product you’re supporting the increased development of renewable energy sources and reducing the demand for non-renewable fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.  By shifting your energy reliance from non-renewable to renewable sources you reduce your carbon footprint and stimulate the economy.

How can I buy Green Power?

First, you need to determine whether your state allows retail electricity competition.  Use the “Status of State Electric Industry Restructuring Activity map” (PDF 2.1 MB) prepared by the U.S. Energy Information Administration to find out.

If your state has not implemented electricity market competition, you still may be able to purchase green power through your regulated utility.  More than 600 regulated utilities in over 30 states now offer “green pricing” programs.

Green pricing programs are a service option offered by utilities that allows customers to reduce the percentage of non-renewable energy they use and increase the percentage of renewable energy.  To do this, customers pay a premium on their electric bill to cover the above-market cost of acquiring renewable energy resources.

To find out what green power options are available in your state, visit the Department of Energy’s Can I Buy Green Power in my State? web page, where you can click on your state to view available green power products.

But what if you don’t have access to green power through your utility or a competitive electricity marketer?  You can still support increased renewable energy usage by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) also known as green tags, green energy certificates, or tradable renewable certificates.

Here’s how RECs work.  As an energy consumer, you continue to use conventional energy provided by your local utility, but you purchase certificates that pay for the production of renewable energy. For every REC you purchase, one megawatt-hour (the equivalent of 1000 kilowatt-hours) of renewable electricity is generated and delivered to the nation’s power grid.  This offsets and reduces the amount of conventional, non-renewable energy that is generated, for off-the-grid consumption.  To put this in perspective, on average, one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of renewable power eliminates a little more than a pound of carbon emissions.

A variety of organizations offer RECs, and you don’t need to switch from your current electricity supplier in order to purchase these certificates.

Green Power Evaluation and Certification

So how can you be sure that your green power purchase will really benefit the environment?
A number certification programs, as well as advertising and marketing guidelines, have been developed in the U.S. to help address green power product credibility.  These programs help consumers verify green power claims and learn how to make environmentally sound choices among competitors.

For more information on these programs, check out the Department of Energy’s Consumer Protection page.  And don’t miss our interviews featuring some of the leading REC companies.  They’re coming in March.

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